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Build a Big Chest: Powerbuilding Workout Program

January 11, 2011

Build a Big Chest: Powerbuilding Workout Program

Everybody knows who Arnold Schwarzenegger is and every weightlifter, whether they’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or strongman, idolizes him in some way shape or form.

When you have someone who changed the game as much as Arnold did, weightlifter or not, it’s practically impossible not to idolize him.

Many people don’t know he was a competitive powerlifter several years before becoming a bodybuilder and attributes muscle density, thickness, and hardness to powerlifting.

I especially like the idea of heavy days for maximum chest development. Once a week I usually trained my chest with extra heavy weight: 5 or 6 reps at the most. 100-pound Flys, Incline Presses using 365 pounds for 6 to 8 reps, super-heavy 450-pound Bench Presses to produce the maximum pectoral mass and thickness.“-Arnold Schwarzenegger

When Arnold started training to become a bodybuilder he didn’t want to lose the mass, and thickness that powerlifting gave him, so he scheduled heavy lifting days into his training routine. Once a week he would pick one body part and max out with a strength movement.

For example, with legs, he would max out with squats, and with chest, he would go as heavy as possible on the bench press.

You could argue that Arnold was a “powerbuilder” (someone who trains for both strength and aesthetics) like Stan Efferding or Johnnie Jackson. He developed this chest power training routine to capitalize on both strength and mass, which is not like any typical strength or powerlifting program.

The Power Training Program

Note: Do a light warm up to build up to your 20 rep max.

Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press 1 20
Bench Press 1 10
Bench Press 1 5
Bench Press 1 3
Bench Press 1 1
Bench Press 5 1-2
Bench Press 1 10

This is the meat of the program right here: the bench press. This is all you really need for this program to be a success, and the rest is optional. The twenty rep set is going to build up your endurance and help you develop your slow twitch muscle fibers which most powerlifters neglect.

The ten rep set is going to train a mix of both fibers and help fatigue you more for the heavy sets. The five rep set is the bread and butter of powerlifting building raw power.

The three rep max will boost speed and power and optimize the contribution of the CNS. The one rep max tests everything and is the peak of the program However, it’s not a true max and is not as taxing on your body.

For the five 1-2 rep sets you’ll most likely have to drop down the weight to what you were using with the three rep set. A recommendation here would be to incorporate “no feet” bench while using a 1-2 second pause, especially to those whose sticking point is off the chest.

The last ten rep set can be done either way, preferably again with feet up while keeping the elbows tucked and shoulders pinched. The rest of the routine below is what Arnold wrote out, but to a lot of people is unnecessary.

A few sets of flys should suffice, stretching and holding on the bottom, but it’s up to you to decide.

Exercise Sets Reps
Incline Press 1 20
Incline Press 1 10
Incline Press 1 5
Incline Press 1 3
Incline Press 1 1
Incline Press 5 1-2
Incline Press 1 10
Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Flys 1 20
Dumbbell Flys 1 10
Dumbbell Flys 1 5
Dumbbell Flys 1 3
Dumbbell Flys 1 1
Dumbbell Flys 5 1-2
Dumbbell Flys 1 10

This routine should be done once a week, and you may incorporate a speed or dynamic day. Keep in mind not to use too much volume and to rest/deload accordingly.

You should see improvements for at least 6-8 weeks and may want to consider something else after that time-frame. However, it can go much longer if catered to correctly. The beauty of this program is the fact you have multiple attempts to hit a PR in every workout.

If you miss your twenty rep set, you still have a chance to hit your ten rep set, and if you miss that you’ve still got many more attempts. This builds confidence which is one of Reg Parks “rules” in building a routine and is quite underrated.

Unlike some programs such as a simple 5×5 routine where if you miss your first set 99% of the time you’re going to miss the other four.

Adding weight is very simple, if you hit your reps for that set, add five pounds next session. For example, if I complete my twenty rep set but miss my ten rep set, I will only add on five pounds to the twenty rep set next week.

Jumping more than five-pound increments is not really recommended, but it can work and will most likely take you an extra workout or two before you hit your reps again.


[1] BOMPA, T. (2005) Periodisation Training for sports. 2nd ed. Human Kinetics

[2] Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bill Dobbins.The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.


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